I travelled a little further afar than usual for a bit of culture last week – 794 miles to be accurate (tho given the number of connecting flights we had to make, significantly more).
“So where are you going to?” asked the airport-taxi driver shortly after collecting us at the eye-wateringly early time of 3am.
“Norway” we said in unison.
“Oh right, for anything special?”
(a moments silence) “I’ll let you explain” said Julia (my missus).
“Ahem. We’re going to see the World Beard and Moustache Championships.”
“Oh… Right.” … and then silence ensued.
Granted – it’s a little odd – but anyone who’s been privy to it would explain that it’s also a whole lot of Awesome… every 2 years the premier league of the World-wide-Hairsuite do battle displaying their creative flair, and this year the stage was the city of Trondheim, Norway.
Mildly embarrassingly we’ve got a bit of form for attending this event – we flew out to Alaska for the last one in 2009, and Julia first came across the event in 2007 when the host was her home town of Brighton.
The championships are rammed full of fun and interesting characters, and there’s a genuinely exciting and friendly vibe to the event, particularly in the “Freestyle” categories when the contestants finally reveal this years’ design (and often wardrobe too).
There were over 150 contestants this year – and it’s truly world-spanning – with people travelling in from Australia, America, Canada, Italy, Germany, and the UK to name just a few.
The event is split into a number of categories (Full-Beard, Partial Beard and Moustache), with each in turn being split into sub-categories (Full Natural Beard, Beard with Styled Moustache, Dali Moustache, Musketeer, Freestyle Sideburns etc), and throughout the day each category is judged, with contestants parading infront of a large pannel of judges and the audience, before the top 3 are announced (the actual placings are announced later at the award-giving section of the day).
Some of the categories have more entrants than others – the “Full Beard Natural” has the most – on the one hand it’s the least effort to enter, but on the other the sheer number of contestants means it’s the hardest to win.
Conversely, the “Chinese Moustache” (or “Fu-Manchu”) Category is one of the harder styles to grow – in Alaska there were only 2 entrants; This year there were 5 – possibly as it was perceived as a good one to go for to win a medal. On chatting to the 3rd place winner (from Alaska), we discovered he’d entered the alaskan championships as a full-natural-beard, and rather than shave the beard leaving the fu-manchu, mindblowingly he’d shaved off his whole beard and grown the manchu in 18 months from scratch – genes obviously help in this competition.
There’s two main rules to the competition – The beard must be all your own hair, and the only support your beard/moustache can have is a combination of hair-wax, hair-spray, and sheer will-power – any evidence of wire etc will result in disqualification.
Once all the judging is out of the way, the awards begin, with the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place awards given out for each category to rapturous applause and whoops, with the odd chant of “Go USA!”, “Nice Beeeard!”, and (from some of the German contestants) the odd Yodel.
Finally, once all the awards are dealt with, we move on to big one – “Best in Show” – the title that will guarantee your face appearing in newspapers around the world the following day. This years winner was Elmar Wiesser, from Germany ( the winner of the Freestyle Beard category ), who had an amazing beard consisting of hair woven into a Norwegian flag on one side of his heard, and a Moose on the other!
We also took along Culture Vulture contributor The Lego Tourist to see the action (there’s photos with him with various competitors on The Tourist’s Facebook page ); I was quite chuffed that i managed to persuade some of the cream of the competiton to pose with him (a challenging task given a fair amount of the contestants don’t actually speak any English! I’ll leave it to your imagination the figurative gesturing that was required :-). He actually proved to be incredibly popular – there’ll be a fair few photos of him floating around the internet as people crowded around wanting to take photos too!
This year, as an added bonus, the Championships were held a couple of days before the Norwegian National Day, and the contestants were invited to take part in the city’s parade. We’re not talking your half-hearted British village fete parade here – seemingly the entire of the city and suburbs lined the streets of the city centre dressed up-to-the-nines in suits and traditional dress, fervently waving Norwegian flags, while all the services, clubs and teams of the city parade the route to rapturous applause and cheering (most impressive – the university trampoline club, who bounced above the crowd on a wheel’d trampoline). We felt a bit out of place wearing jeans and t-shirts :-s
The contestants went down a storm with the crowds, and made for an slightly embarrassing moment for me and Julia, when we accidentally ended up in the parade and couldn’t get out, so ended up sheepishly parading the 1 mile route ourselves with Beard Team Canada (who thankfully had joked we could tag along with them beforehand if we wanted to) – made for some ace photos, but i was expecting someone to shout “imposter” at any moment!
Trondheim itself was a lovely little city – worthy of a weekend visit (tho maybe you’d be pushed for much to do beyond that) – formally the capital of Norway before that was transferred to Norway, it’s quite industrial (infact the area of the hotel we stayed in was formally docks and canals, now regenerated into offices and apartments – actually reminded me a little of Granary Wharf in Leeds). We knew beforehand that Norway was going to be expensive, but nothing really prepares you for £8+ a pint of beer! As a rule of thumb pretty much everything is twice the price of the UK :-s
The next championship is in 2 years time, in Germany – plenty of time for you to grow a decent beard or moustache 😉 The British Beard Club are also planning on starting a British Championships next year 🙂
When he’s not taking photos of weird and wonderful events and traditions around Yorkshire, Rick’s a freelance photographer – you can check out his portfolio site here.
Photos (c) Rick Harrison 2011 except where credited otherwise.